American forces withdrawing from Syria into western Iraq have not been issued permission to stay in the country, an official Iraqi government statement has warned, saying further only brief "transit" approval has been given.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper days ago claimed the additional US forces currently pulling out of Syria, at nearly 1000, will joint troops already stationed in Iraq for their anti-ISIS mission and “to help defend Iraq”.
“All U.S. forces that withdrew from Syria received approval to enter the Kurdistan Region so that they may be transported outside Iraq. There is no permission granted for these forces to stay inside Iraq,” the Iraqi military said according to Reuters.
The surprise resistance from Baghdad officials comes amid growing popular anger at continued US presence and a movement underway in parliament to expel all remaining American troops, largely due to a spate of Israeli drone strikes over the past few months on Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary bases, mostly in and around Baghdad.
The between 700 and 1,000 US forces exiting Syria toward bases in western Iraq are expected to bolster the already more than 5,000 American forces stationed in the country.
Given this latest warning out of Baghdad, a senior Pentagon official noted to Reuters that the situation remains "fluid and plans could change".
Meanwhile, the looming Tuesday night expiration of the '120-hour ceasefire' deal which went into effect last Thursday could mean all hell is ready to break loose in northern Syrian once again, though sporadic fighting has remained in effect, with both sides accusing the other of already breaching its terms.
A more permanent ceasefire as part of the Pence-brokered plan is conditioned on all parties observing the temporary "pause" — which is hours away from expiring.
Turkey's President Erdogan in new statements has vowed to restart the major Syria offensive "more strongly" if the US "breaks its promises". This after on Tuesday he boasted the Turkish operation had wrested 160 settlements along the border from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Kurdish YPG militia are required to withdraw from a 120km long strip of border area to make way for a Turkey-administered 'safe zone' inside Syria.
Interestingly, on the final day of the US-brokered ceasefire Erdogan is in Sochi, Russia where he is meeting with Vladimir Putin to discuss Syria. Putin has positioned Russia as the final power broker in the region as Washington departs.